Together As One

October 29, 20170 Comments

His face changed. It happened just after he stepped on the stage. Dressed in a black robe and a white Sufi cap, he walked slowly from the left wing of the stage and stopped. Slowly, he removed his black robe and gently folded it to the ground. He stepped forward, now fully dressed in white as the music started. To the beat of the drum, the bass, the oud, and the qanun, he lifted his arms to chest height, palms upturned, and his face changed. Slowly, he started to twirl, and it appeared to me that light was shining from behind his face, which was now and then upturned heavenward. He continued whirling, faster, faster, then slower, ebb and flow, whirling, whirling, as the music continued, its beat in rhythm with his whirling; his whirling in rhythm with its beat. On and on, he kept whirling, his white skirt undulating as he turned in the ecstasy of his moving meditation. Along with an audience of several hundred people, I watched transfixed as I experienced something enchanting happening in the presence of this magnificent moving prayer. I felt my hair stand on end and rubbed my arms as a chill passed through my body. I tried to capture this dance of joy with my camera phone but it continued for so many minutes and I was so enraptured that I could only catch a clip before giving myself over to the energy that was now present in the large sanctuary.

During the intermission of this interfaith concert “Together As One” at University Synagogue in Los Angeles, I spoke with my three Muslim neighbors who explained to me that I had just experienced a Whirling Dervish, and what that meant – how much training he had to go through to get to this altered stage of consciousness I had just witnessed. I was so deeply touched, and shared with them that I had felt a shift in my soul that evening. They smiled, I learned their names, I asked them to dance with me in the aisles during the second half of the concert to the wonderful music of the Yuval Ron Ensemble. During the second half, we listened to Yuval tell inspiring stories, and we did indeed dance to the music, our bodies swaying in rhythmic movement to the beat, allowing the joy to move us as we connected with each other in sound and touch. And then the Whirling Dervish came on stage again. Again, he connected with the source beyond the sanctuary and I gave myself over to the moment.

At the end of the concert, Cantor Kerith Spencer-Shapiro invited the clergy present to come forward to the stage to bless the food that had been brought for the homeless. The ‘ticket’ for entry to the concert was food and new clothing for the homeless. The audience had been so generous in their offerings. I stood on stage with my fellow Jewish, Muslim and Christian clergy colleagues, and when it was my turn to speak, I opened my mouth to bless the food, and I too felt blessed to be present, Together As One.

The concert ended with John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” – each verse sung in four languages: Arabic, English, Hebrew and Spanish, with the entire audience joining in with the chorus. I sat still as everyone was leaving, just trying to process what I had experienced. Nadia, my Muslim neighbor, pressed something into my hand that looked like a rosary. “This is called a Tasbih. I use it every day when I pray, and I want you to have it.” A profound gift. Together As One.

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